Upchurch hopes to make one last impression

The Turk has been a busy man handing out pink slips for the Steelers over the past week as the team has trimmed its roster to 67 players. <br><br>And with NFL teams required to be down to 53 players by Sunday, there will be 14 more unhappy players sometime this weekend.

So you can understand why undrafted rookies like defensive lineman David Upchurch have spent more than a few sleepless nights in the past seven days.

They know that every day now could be their last in the NFL and that they have to do everything possible to make sure that doesn't happen.

Upchurch will be one of several Steelers trying to make one more good impression on the coaching staff in tonight's preseason finale at Carolina.

"The last week has been really tough," said Upchurch, a former West Virginia star. "There's just so much uncertainty and you're not sure what's going to happen. All I can do is keep on going out there and doing my job and hope that it's good enough."

Upchurch is one of five of the longest of long shots – undrafted rookies – still fighting for a spot on the roster.

Running back Dante Brown has probably been the most visible. He leads the team in rushing in the preseason with 101 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Brian Robinson has just one catch for 12 yards, while linebacker Terrence Robinson has three tackles and one pass defended. Center Jimond Pugh, meanwhile, was one of Brown's key blockers at Memphis and has gotten a long look because of the team's injury problems at center.

All of them are fighting numbers battles to earn a spot on this roster. And unlike the rookies who were selected by the Steelers in the draft, the team has no financial investment in the undrafted players.

They are akin Lt. Expendable on Star Trek, the guy who shows up on an episode, but is the odd man out in a landing party that includes Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu. One of the four isn't making it back from Planet X and you can bet the dead guy isn't going to be Kirk, Spock or Sulu.

The 6-3, 285-pound Upchurch has been good enough to catch the eye of Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who went out of his way to mention the rookie when asked about the team's defensive line situation.

"I think the one kid that probably has stood out is David Upchurch," Cowher said. "I think he will get to play a lot this week because of Brett Keisel's shoulder."

Keisel suffered a shoulder injury last week and will undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left shoulder Sunday. He will be out at least four to six weeks and possibly longer, maybe opening a roster spot up for Upchurch.

Upchurch played both nose tackle and defensive end at West Virginia and finished his career with 35 tackles for a loss as a three-year starter. He could give the Steelers some flexibility on their line, with his ability to play inside or out. But can he be the wedge buster on the kickoff coverage team as Keisel was last season?

"I'll do whatever I have to do to make this team," said Upchurch, who has made five tackles, two of which have been for losses in the Steelers' first three preseason games.

"I can play nose tackle, end, whatever. I just want to be here."

Dale Lolley
SteelCitySports.com

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